The Importance of Customer Experience: my Bad Experience with Lufthansa

I’m a frequent flyer with United, with the MileagePlus Platinum status (75000 miles per year) and I’m used to my company online tools to select my trip most suitable flights and accommodations.

This time, I needed to book flights for my wife and me, for a private trip. After spending several hours on trying to book the flights with Internet web site, I’m so frustrated that I want to share my experience. In the end, I want to finish with some observations related to the customer experience and some conclusions for any business using online tools.

Being tall, I like the “Economy Plus” seating in United, which offers a few additional inches for my legs. So I tried to use my United “miles” award to purchase my ticket. Unfortunately, no awards were applicable for the specific day. Murphy’s law: “Pick a date and you shall not be able to use your award points on that specific day”. Anyway, since there are no specific United flights to that destination, I could understand.

With the United Platinium membership, I automatically became a Star Alliance Gold Member. Surely, there are advantages to book a Star Alliance company I thought. So I started to compare the different Star Alliance companies. Lufthansa was not the cheapest one but I know they have the economy+ equivalent, which they call “premium economy”. So I started to book my Lufthansa tickets. In the middle of the process, I realized that I could not introduce my frequent flyer number and therefore could not select the upgraded seats. So I called the Lufthansa support: “You’ll be able to insert your frequent flyer number later on, then you will have access to the seats with the extra legroom. If it doesn’t work, call me back later”. So I booked my tickets in good faith and was even able to insert my frequent flyer number at the very end of the process.

Going back into the tool, no access to the upgraded seats. And I even have to pay some extra if I want to select a seat, any seat, even in coach. I thought for a moment I booked with Ryanair… So I called back Lufthansa. A different representative explained that having access to the upgraded seating was not possible with my status. “Surely the previous representative made a mistake and was not aware of the rules”. I was advised to call “Miles & More”, the Lufthansa frequent flyer program. To summarize the discussion: “nothing we can do, contact back the previous department and ask to speak to a supervisor”. Fourth call at this point, asking to speak to the supervisor. It proved to be impossible, so I had to explained my story again to the representative, who, in the end, spoke to her supervisor… and again “there is nothing we could: the tool doesn’t allow me to do anything for you”.

At that point, I felt the frustration growing. I booked with Lufthansa based on a false promise and I could not cancel without penalties.  Ok, maybe I could use my use my United points to be able to select the better seats? They didn’t know the answer. Guess what, I had to call “Miles & More” again. After explaining my story again (fifth call at this point in time), I received the answer: “You are in the contact with the “Miles & More” for Brussels Airlines (recently acquired by Lufthansa). Since you booked with Lufthansa, you should call “Miles & More” Lufthansa”. They did not even know whether I could use my United points for a Lufthansa seat upgrade. In the mean time, I read the Star Alliance benefits, without a definite answer to my problem.

In the end, I called the United Platinium number and received my confirmation:

  • No entitled to use United points for some extra legroom seats on Lufthansa.
  • Could upgrade seat to business only if I booked a specific ticket type (B or Y)

Frustration. Here is how booking a vacation trip resulted in hours of frustration and six phone calls. At this point, I have no seats assigned and I can’t cancel without losing money.

What are the conclusions?

The world of service has been changing lately with the Internet: the consumers are now responsible for tasks that were considering as services in the past. To take some examples linked to flights and airports: flight reservation, seat assignment, self registration at airport checking, passport self scanning, IPAD food ordering in New York airports (In a different blog, I could tell you how much I hate this contact-less but tax-included “service”), etc. We can observe this trend in many sectors: shop self payment, PC banking, online shopping, self troubleshooting, etc… I shared my frustration with Lufthansa in this post. However, Santa could share a similar experience with multiple online shopping web sites for which multiple hours were lost or with the latest provided gift he had to troubleshooting himself (firmware upgrade required).

There are obvious advantages when the consumers executed some of these tasks themselves, using the technology:

  • Faster. If I self scanned my passport in airport, I hope the point is that I will get faster service. If I go for Uber, hopefully I will get the cab closer to me. If I book a trip online, it should be faster than visiting your travel agency.
  • Cheaper. Hopefully, the price should go down as the end user does most of the job. After all, I could have pay  a travel agency for the associated service.
  • Customized. The consumer gets exactly what he wants. This should lead to a better service, right? Well not always! And this is my point.

However, let’s look at what happened in this particular situation with regards to these 3 points.

Faster? Instead of a professional person spending a few minutes, the end users now lose countless hours of their time to get the their customized product. In this case, I faced a mix of a bad tool (I could not introduce my frequent flyer number before the seat assignment), wrong representative information, and a support organization that doesn’t hide the complex Lufthansa internal structure.

Cheaper? Maybe this is cheaper in this case, it’s difficult to compare. One note regarding the price: apparently, if I want specific seats (not even upgrade), I need to pay some extra 10 euros per person per flight. While this amount is small compared to the ticket, I’m left with the bad feeling to be a “clay pigeon”. Come on Lufthansa, you’re not Ryanair.

Customized? Yes, I get the flights I wanted to, but that’s it! No extra legroom. Oh btw, it’s possible for an additional 500 euros (25 or 100 euros, depending on the flight length, per person time two for the return flights). Note that at the time of finishing this blog, I’m unable to tell whether my wife and I are sitting next to each others for those 12 hours long flights, without paying an additional 140 euros.

It boils down to customer experience. The more time you spent fighting the battle of online shops, the more frustration arises. Up to point where you are so disappointed and frustrated that you write a blog, up to the point that you start to associate a specific brand with “trouble” in the back of your head. It’s going to take me a while before I  stop associating Lufthansa with this very bad experience. Internet tools are great and provide value, if they’re done right. When they’re not, then the power of the Internet (with specific travel related tools rating or blogs like), will turn against a specific brand. So think carefully about your user experience: it should be the center of your business, your tool, and your support.

My 2018 New Year resolution: If you fuck up my customer experience, I’ll let you … and the world … know!

Regards, Benoit

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